How To Graduate with Less or No Debt

Keys_29082It’s quite the conundrum. We are told that a college education is the key to achieving our full potential and the American dream.  The story tells us it is the way out of poverty.  Access to higher education was a major priority for the last White House administration and affordability was central to that message.  President Obama even introduced the America’s College Promise Act 2015 to make the two years of community college free.

Over the past decade or so the number of Americans earning college degrees has skyrocketed.  And so has the tuition, and the debt that follows.  For many, what was supposed to be a roadmap to the American Dream turned out to be a money pit into a uniquely American nightmare.  Graduates now face enormously burdensome debt that many will never be able to pay off in their lifetime.  We’ve all heard reports about the student loan default crisis, where the struggle to keep up with unaffordable loan payments becomes so discouraging that people stop paying altogether.

Women are particularly vulnerable.  I recently read that women own two-thirds of student loan debt.  Yet a female graduate will earn only 79 cents for every dollar that a male graduate will, on average, in a similar position.  Hmm…wouldn’t it be nice if that was reflected in the tuition we pay?!  Blacks and Latinas tend to take on more debt, and the fact that they tend to make even less than their White counterparts makes it especially harder for them to repay.

But alas, there’s hope!  There are several ways to graduate with less or no debt.  At the root of decreasing the need to take on debt to advance one’s education are planning, time and diligence.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Take your required courses at a community college.  It is not necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on coursework that isn’t directly relevant to your major; better yet, if you don’t even know what you want to study or career path you want to take right now, community college is a great place to sort that out.  Aside from the money, it can help you to grow in maturity and be more focused at a four-year college. Advantages:
    1. Cheaper
    2. Potentially pay tuition as you go
    3. The 4-year college transcript is what will be seen on your resume and what you will talk about at parties!  If you started at Community but ended up at Harvard no one really has to know.stundet-loan4
  2. Prepare!  There are literally thousands of grants and scholarships.  Take the time to do the research necessary to meet all of the deadlines and gather all of the information required to complete each application.
    1. Attend events at schools and community organizations of all sorts; read books and articles on free money for college. Get to know people who do this every day and keep in touch.
    2. It would be wise to start researching 18 months out from when you will begin school.  This way you can target your time and energy towards the most lucrative scholarships and grants that you qualify for and are interested in.
    3. Give yourself and your recommenders enough time to craft thoughtful, well-written essays and recommendations.
  3. Consider the potential salary expectations for your desired career.  Will your potential future income allow you to afford your student loan debt along with your realistic cost of living?  Your grades, location, network and caliber of your school are all factors in the salary level that may be available to you.
    1. This is the business of your life.  Do a cost/benefit analysis on your educational goals.  Does the pay scale for the career you intend to go into justify the cost of the degree required for the field?  For example, if you want to be a social worker, would it be worth it to go $60,000 into debt, considering what your salary is likely to be over the long run?
    2. Following the example in number 1, there are student loan forgiveness programs for certain careers.
      1. Usually when you go into one of these careers and apply for loan forgiveness there are requirements such as length of time to work in the field.
      2. Careers in public service (ex., The Peace Corps), medicine, the law and military service are all examples.
      3. For more information go here, here, here and here.splash
    3. An often overlooked yet critical advantage of going to college is the alumni network.
      1. I wrote in a previous blog, No Man Is An Island.  No one gets to where they want to be in life solely on their own effort.  Everyone needs a team to achieve their goals and dreams.
      2. As I asserted in my post about opportunity, connections are key.  That is the value of going to a top-tier school.  College isn’t just about academics; it’s the people with whom you will build lifetime personal relationships and professional connections. Further, the higher up on that U.S. News & World Report list, the higher your earning potential will be as soon as your graduate.
      3. Going to a top school matters most in the beginning of your career.  Afterward your professional record is what will really matter.  Of course top school alums will always have bragging rights, whatever it’s worth. 🙂
    4. Get a job at a company that offers tuition reimbursement.  Consider that there is more than one way to obtain an “education.”  Working in your field of interest while saving and investing as much as you can, kills two birds with one stone.  Being reimbursed for the tuition you pay is icing on the cake!
      1.  I benefited enormously by this incentive when I worked at Ernst & Young.  I was able to grow my professional competence through continuing education classes.  But they would also have paid for graduate school.
      2. Usually companies will require that you study courses either related to your specific position or the company’s industry. Length of time employed is another typical requirement. Either way if it’s your field of choice, it’s a win.
      3. The bigger the company the more likely that this opportunity will be available and the more generous.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started.  There are other personal finance possibilities that I will cover in another blog.  Have you been working on getting the money together to pay for college?  What has or has not worked for you so far?  Do you have any ideas you could add to this list?  Comment below!

 

Read more on the advantages of community college here.

Tennessee Makes Community College Free For All Adults

Detroit Is Making First Two Years of College Free

Two Tuition-Free Years in Rhode Island

Should Students Get Grades ’13 and 14′ Free of Charge?

Paying off debt with 401K

8 Reasons To Never Borrow From Your 401K

First 2 Years of College Free

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The Paper Chase

ChasingMoneyMotivational posts are a big thing on social media.  Type in hashtags like “motivation,” “inspiration,” “hustle,” “grind,” “quoteoftheday,” and so on, and a plethora of slick memes will show up with quotes from business leaders and motivational speakers through the ages.  You will find many quotes from Jim Rohn, Robert Kiosaki and Tony Robbins, to name a few, extolling the virtues of persistence, focus, planning, how to build wealth, and the like.  Entrepreneurship has exploded as the internet has made education more accessible than it has ever been.  Technology has lowered barriers to entry for many industries in terms of knowledge as well as start-up capital.  In theory the playing field of capitalism is far more level than it has ever been before.  My inbox and social media accounts are flooded with offers to take a look at some idea to build wealth using the wonders of modern technology, usually with a rags-to-riches testimony.

Now we can “monetize” just about anything.  Industries are growing for motivational speakers, business coaches and trainers, for which clever entrepreneurs will provide instruction on how to tap into the market, for fees small and large.  Usually potential clients are lured into listening to the sales pitch with a free webinar or ebook download.  Somewhere within the material, usually at the end, there is a sales pitch – an up-sell – to turn the free information into a revenue stream through memberships, subscriptions or further coaching.  That sales pitch usually includes at least one quote from a “guru”, such as those mentioned above, to imply that the person shares that winning mentality; they have the thing that you don’t think you have.  It is a very effective tactic as it taps into the deep-seeded self-doubt many of us live with; our desire to be perceived as and feel successful; and guilt over not achieving our full potential.  When I was in network marketing we were taught to always search for the NEED and posit the product as the solution.  The need that motivates many people to pour hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars into these trainings is freedom from the imprisonment of financial struggle.

But even with the abundance of opportunity at our fingertips there is still a pervasive sense of lack in our society.  Increasing abundance of opportunity has not resulted in increasing satisfaction or happiness.  Why is that?

Ecclesiastes 5:11       

As goods increase, so do those who consume them.  And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?

gold-dollar-sign-on-groundI decided to call this blog The Financial Fashionista in part because I recognized that I myself had a conflict between my desire to acquire things and my desire to establish a solid financial foundation.  I have an economics degree and experience in high and low finance. (That’s a joke.)  In my head I have a very clear understanding of how money works: the concept of compound interest, investing in the financial markets, financial products and services, saving, interest expense, depreciation, the difference between cost and value.  In college my focus was mortgage-backed securities, the same product that brought down the world financial markets. But when it comes to personal finance emotion is almost inextricably linked.  This is why most people pull their money out of the market during a correction, as happened in 2008, marriages fail, and even cause business owners to make poor management decisions.

I am now looking very closely at the ‘why’ in my spending habits and attitude toward money in general.  What lessons from my past must I un-learn?  How do I bridge the gap between my rational understanding and my emotions?  I have rooms full of “stuff” that I never have to look at or touch for the rest of my life.  The older I get the more I realize that it is all meaningless.  Whatever satisfaction I receive from purchasing a new dress or some other thing is absolutely fleeting.  And as such the process must perpetuate to reach the same high.

What motivates us to do this?  I know I’m not alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:4

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

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Chasing after the wind.

Another thing that social media brings to the forefront is the deep desire to be simultaneously approved and envied by others.  We lament the unrealistic standards of beauty and lifestyle promoted on the medium but those who do it best gain the most followers, by which they are able to creative highly lucrative businesses.  Posts and hashtags about grinding and hustling extol the value of pushing to reach goals and measurable achievements; we respect most the people who seem to be accomplishing big goals and dreams and the wealth that comes with it.  But that value system is based on outward signs of a success that can disappear even faster than it came; not character or the virtues of community, humility, patience, temperance and generosity.  It is inherently inauthentic.  No wonder it  cannot bring forth lasting satisfaction and happiness.

Motivation in this day and age is temporary because it tends to be based on comparing ourselves to others and wanting what they have.  Inspiration is more authentic and long-lasting because it is based on the vision and purpose that is uniquely suited to the individual.  As the saying goes, “chase your passion and the money will follow.”

 

The 4 Hooks of Motivational Training

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.I have attended many educational events – conferences, workshops, online courses and webinars – for several industries over the past few years.  I was for a short time an agent for a network marketing company in financial services: I hold a Series 6 license and am life insurance licensed in ten states.  Although I have gained eye-opening insight and understanding, attending these events has also been a very valuable lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the mindset conditioning that the network marketing and real estate industries in particular use to “hook” reps and students, respectively.  I have become very familiar with what I will call “motivational training.”

I believe that this style of training sprouted from the self-help movement of the eighties and early nineties.  Susan Powter of ‘Stop the Insanity’ fame comes to mind.  Her brand of tough love in encouraging people to change their eating habits to gain control of their lives and health earned millions from books, tickets to speaking engagements and exercise videos. During this time Tony Robbins’ star was also on the rise. He too had lengthy infomercials on how to take control of your life, but his approach was far more “gentle,” for lack of a better word, and holistic.  Even though their approaches were very different, in my mind they built the framework for the motivational style of training so popular today.  Ms. Powter and Mr. Robbins showed how profitable “motivation” can be.

Today, “gurus” are all over the place.  They have learned to combine the tough-love and gentle approaches.  They are usually people who have achieved demonstrable success at something and have built a following based on their story of how they accomplished their goals.  The point and purpose of motivational training is the up-sell.  These events follow very familiar layout that will conclude with an “ask” – buy a book, a course or series of courses or mentorship/coaching.  Whether the story of the road to success is entirely true or not, clearly the story in and of itself can prove just as profitable, if not more so, than the work itself.

Success on hook

The following are four common “hooks” you may hear when attending educational industry events.

Hook #1: The Warning

The idea is that they will help you avoid the costly and painful mistakes that they made.  This idea is reinforced by the altruistic desire help as many people succeed as possible.  I am not doubting anyone’s sincerity.  I just believe that we have to be our own teachers.  When you have your own experience, including failures, then you are in the best position to know what works best for you, given your unique set of skills, talents and interests.  And that is what a person will be able to make the most out of an investment in coaching.

The Warning:

  • You can’t do it by yourself
  • Mistakes can ruin you

Hook #2: Cost Versus Value

“If you paid $30,000 for coaching that leads you to 3 deals that earn $10,000 each or even 1 deal earning $30,000 and you can build a fortune going forward on the lessons you learned, what did it really cost you?”  That would make the service in effect free.  However, there is a huge caveat – “if.”  If you’re given an action plan; if the coaching is personal; if the coach follows through with what has been promised; if you follow the action plan; if you are able to devote the time and effort necessary.  The truth is, only about 5% of the people who attend such workshops will take action and of those few achieve the results they were expecting.  For most it will be nothing more than a very large donation to that guru’s bank account.

Cost v. Value

  • Hand-hold coaching from an industry expert
  • It pays for itself

Hook #3: Impatience

We want to see results fast.  Diet companies make a fortune every year on our desire to see results fast, with little effort.  Patience requires discipline.  Discipline involves consistent long-term implementation of a plan toward a goal.  The gurus know how to tap into this tendency in our culture to want to jump ahead and enjoy the evidence of hard work, without actually doing the hard work.  And that very well should be expensive.

Impatience

  • Huge profits in 30 or less days
  • Be the envy of suckers slaving away for “the man”

Hook #4: Insecurity

Many of us don’t believe we can do great things.  Guilt in knowing that we are not living up to our full potential is an extension of that self-perception.  Flashes of motivational quotes and inspirational videos are meant to dig into the sore spot and bring home the point that the program, product or service offers a way out.  The gurus know this feeling is fleeting.  We are very good at settling back into a comfortable, familiar routine.  So it is imperative for the speaker to pull on the string of insecurity to compel as many in attendance as possible to pull out the credit card or take out the HELOC or pull cash out of a retirement account to pay handsomely for the promise of finally attaining the success and feeling of accomplishment that so many lack.  They also know that there is at least $3trillion sitting in liquid and a little less than liquid accounts in this country.

Insecurity

  • Yes, this is great training, but you still won’t make it on your own
  • Winners recognize opportunity and take decisive action

Konferenz Saal

Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking help and inspiration.  I am not at all against doing the weekend-long workshops on real estate investing or conferences by networking marketing and other companies.  But I have also become hyper aware of the emotional and psychological hooks that can be very manipulative and often lead to disappointment down the road.

Remember:

  • Everyone starts at the beginning and there is no substitute for work.
  • If the gurus could do the work to get where they are, so can you.
  • Don’t let fear of making a mistake cost you.  You can only grow from mistakes.
  • Don’t worry about “advice” from people who cannot relate to what it’s like to take a chance.
  • Take advice and get ideas from people who relate to fighting for a vision.
  • Take advice from people who don’t give up.
  • Take advice from people who have failed a million times but have the courage to get up and keep going; their failures have provided a treasure trove of wisdom and great ideas!
  • Don’t take advice from people who talk nonsense.
  • And please do not believe people who are boastful because they are likely embellishing to create envy and false authority.

The truth is that motivation comes from within.  Nobody can give it to you.  It requires constant self-evaluation to grow in the confidence that you are doing what truly interests you and for which you have the talent.  Just because someone else has done tremendously well at something doesn’t mean that you will too, even when you give it 100%.  No one thing is for everybody.  We were each created for a specific purpose.  If we are pursuing something that is not in line with our purpose it could remain an uphill battle.  If we are pursuing things that do not engage our best skills and talents it will likely remain a very difficult journey, no matter whose advice we follow.